Remicade safe with Merck, Hassan says

It's been the usual parade of drug-company executives at this year's Reuters Health Summit--and the usual steady flow of newsworthy comments. Among those on tap yesterday: Fred Hassan, who was CEO of Schering-Plough until the Merck merger just a few days ago. Naturally, Hassan had plenty to say about his old company--and a few predictions for pharma at large.

Hassan predicts that Merck will be able to hold onto the rights to Schering-Plough's anti-inflammatory drug Remicade and its sister-slash-offspring drug Simponi. Rights to Simponi, which was approved by the FDA in April, fell into dispute when Merck and Schering-Plough announced their merger. A marketing deal says the rights revert to Johnson & Johnson if Schering-Plough were subject to a change in control. But as you also know, Merck and Schering-Plough designed their deal as a "reverse merger," in which Schering-Plough was the technical buyer and Merck the buy-ee.

J&J said the "reverse merger" arrangement wasn't enough to protect the marketing deal. Now an arbitrator will weigh the evidence and decide who's correct. Given that Schering-Plough pocketed some $2 billion in Remicade sales a year, there's a lot riding on that decision. And Hassan says he's confident it will go in Merck's favor. "We had very good external advice," he said (as quoted by Reuters). "The case is good."

Hassan also predicted that pharma merger mania will continue, but they will be mid-range deals rather than mega-mergers. He sees a lot of opportunity in Europe and Japan, both of which in his view are ripe for greater consolidation.

As for personal opportunity, Hassan told the summit that he's focused on the "small-company space." He thinks he can help the right small company get their science and their dreams to market. "They may not have that management ingredient that can make them a lot better," Hassan said. "So that's my focus at this stage."

- read the Reuters story